Somerset loses a legend with death of Leon Johnson Sr.

On July 19, Somerset County lost a legend in the name Mr. Leon Johnson Sr. He was 90 years old. Mr. Johnson came to Somerset County by way of Aiken, South Carolina. He served as the Principal Extension Agent and full professor at the University of Maryland College Park. However his office was housed at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

He was appointed the Chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Migratory and Seasonal Farm Labor in which he served at the pleasure of five Maryland governors for over 26 years.

His accomplishments are numerous but to list a few include the writing of grants and proposals that started SHORE UP!, Inc. (Self-Help on Rural Economies and Urban), Head Start and SCOPE, Inc which is now known as Chesapeake Health Care as well as water and sewer service for Somerset County from the Westover area to Rumbley and Frenchtown.

He founded low income housing in Somerset and Worcester counties. He was instrumental with the incorporation of the Save the Youth Crime Prevention Program located in Pocomoke City that was supervised by Bishop Isaac Jenkins, retired pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church.
Mr. Johnson served as the President of the Community Action Planning Committee in which he was the first minority elected to this position in a county in the State of Maryland. He managed the Agriculture and 4-H Club Programs, provided information to families and farms and in neighborhoods. He further clarified expectations for surveys being conducted on their land for the Manokin Watershed and Passerdyke Projects.

He was responsible for writing a proposal for the Nelson Amendment project that was implemented to clean the county and drain water from the highways and neighborhoods in which comments about this project are recorded and can be found in the United States Congressional Records. His role as Chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Migratory and Seasonal Farm Labor he shared the historical background about the survival of black farmers to the national television audience, which led to the Black Farmers national Lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mr. Johnson co-authored a bulletin entitled “State and Federal Regulations and Laws Governing Migratory and Seasonal Farmworkers in the State of Maryland.”

Mr. Johnson, provided leadership on two bills which were passed in the State Legislature on worker’s compensation for migrants and seasonal farm laborers and the registration of crew leaders in the State of Maryland in order to stop crew leaders from not paying and physically abusing the laborers. The Delaware State News editorial editor wrote, Maryland is a state to follow. The Baltimore Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) cited the Extension Service for Mr. Johnson’s work.

He was involved in numerous civic and community organizations including the NAACP, member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., advisor to the Men of Progress, founding member of the Community Development Society of America, member and President of the Tri County Migrant Committee, non-clergy member for the Maryland Council of Churches to name a few. However we cannot overlook that Mr. Johnson was the catalyst that spearheaded the first successful lawsuit against the town of Princess Anne in its refusal to allow minorities to serve as volunteer firefighters in 1986 with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Wherever Mr. Johnson recognized a problem in Somerset County he worked by using his gift of the pen to write a grant or proposal to make life better for the youth and adults alike. He was a community man in every sense of the word with a vision. Mr. Johnson was not one seeking recognition but one that did what was required of him. He worked tirelessly for years until he could no longer work physically but was always there to advise.

It is sad that a number of people in the county do not and did not know him because of his quiet ways. He would argue until he got his point across which was most of the time. He left us as a friend, role model and community advisor who always attempted to improve the living conditions of those in Somerset County and surrounding areas.

Mr. Johnson was blessed by God with a gift and he utilized it to his fullest.

Dr. Kirkland J. Hall, Sr.
Princess Anne